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The Relational Gaze on a Changing Society

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Edited By Paolo Terenzi and Elisabetta Carrà

Relational sociology is coming increasingly to the fore on the international academic stage. As it invariably happens in such circumstances, when a new paradigm attracts a growing number of scholars, researchers and practitioners, it is almost inevitably interpreted and identified in many different ways. This book aims to highlight the specific nature of relational sociology, disseminates knowledge about the relational approach which has been developed in Italy and in Europe starting from the work of Pierpaolo Donati, and confronts this approach with issues which are currently much debated in social theory, social research and social work. The authors try to consolidate the directions taken in the research field in order to distinguish relational sociology from other approaches which are not relational, or are only so to a certain degree.

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Relational Aspects of the Third Sector Today

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1 Introduction

The third sector (TS) has long been an essential component of Italian and European society. Sociological reflections during recent decades have contributed to a clarification of TS strengths and weaknesses, taking into account the historical context and the social situation of reference.1 In view of this, the present essay focuses attention on key aspects of the TS debate, referring specifically to the social functions performed by TS organisations when responding to needs through intervention practices aimed at revitalising social contexts, the constitutive processes, the development of TS relationships with public and private market partners, the role played within social policies and the major transformations which have affected the development or re-dimensioning of example cases.

At the European level, wide variations emerge in the historical, cultural, social and relational characteristics of the sector,2 and how its social identity is defined.

The cognitive route we follow here has three parts. The first will explore the culture of the phenomenon, the second will cover the identification of several distinctive features currently characterising the TS in Italy and Europe with reference to the available empirical data, and the third will identify the prospects of several emerging orientations.

2 Culture as the guiding feature of TS

We begin with the identification of the cultural dimension of the TS, whereby culture is understood here as a process of attribution of meaning. This process with reference to the TS is rooted in...

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